Sam Sarkar has pulled the sword from the stone and found one heck of an adaptation attached to the tip of it. Excalibur just got an upgrade. Caliber is a western adaptation of the legend of King Arthur and his powerful sword Excalibur. Caliber begins in Telacoma, Oregon where Jean Michel Whitefeather has begun his search for the “lawbringer” that will bring justice and law to all people. After a misinterpretation of a vision, Whitefeather loses faith in his abilities to find this chosen wielder for Caliber, a gun that will only fire for this “lawbringer.” With the aid of destiny, Arthur and Caliber are united and Arthur’s quest for justice has begun, along with the help of his friends and fellow bringers of justice.
This book is a film on paper. From the minute you turn to the first page you can feel the soundtrack playing in the background leading you to the title. It is no wonder that this book has so quickly been picked up to become a live-action film, directed by legendary action director John Woo. True to form, we’ll begin with the writing. The detail and love for this story is seen in Sarkar’s attention to subtlety. The book is written in a way that a quick read through is nearly impossible. By the end of the first page Sarkar has established the pacing and rhythm of the dialogue of the story. The word work on Whitefeather’s dialogue exudes a newly tapped and inexperienced wisdom. Each character commands a different facet of the human quality for justice.
Sarkar, who has worked in film for many years now, structures the story in a very movie-esque fashion -- tossing the reader from one place to the other with fluidity that maintains all the linearity and clarity of the story’s arc. Sarkar understands what it is to build subtle, yet powerful, connections between characters that allow for great moments of connection between reader and character. In the first issue of this run, there is a moment when Ulysses Pendergon stands in the room where his wife and son are sleeping and says his goodbyes without waking them. The writing that lead to this point, mixed with the choices of panel design allow for this moment to scream at the reader with just four words -- “Good night, my loves.” That is a great moment that Sarkar does not let the reader miss.
The remainder of the run up until now sustains a powerful mixture of landscape, melding legends of great fantasy and the rustic tales of the Wild West. There is a Victorian feel that is not characteristic of the west and its implementation enhances the reader’s immersement in Sarkar’s Arthurian Western reality. The stylistic choice by Sarkar and his art team play a solid role in maintaining the illusion of this unique and beautiful time period. Sarkar does such a great job of making these characters easy to connect with that when this volume ends, the reader is left gasping for more.
The art in this book is also beautiful, providing for majestic landscapes, powerful colors and ominous glances. The work done with Caliber is great and draws the reader’s attention straight to the gun every moment it’s in a panel. The blues and whites used to pop the gun off the page give it a very powerful and, to quote Dane Cook, “fantastical” feel. The use of color and detail around Caliber emphasizes its power and importance to the spreading of justice.
The eye work in this book is also incredible. So much can be said with the eyes and some artists choose to over look this and provide for more expressive body positioning. But the expressiveness of every glance in this book works out great for the story and adds a whole new dimension to the characters. There is a moment when a gunman is shot dead and there is a close up on his eyes as he is falling backwards. The vacancy and pain captured within the eyes of this character is something to be applauded. That one panel haunts the reader until the very end of the issue and it is a panel you don’t forget.
There are great moments in the book when art and word are at the ideal balance and provide the reader with a set of panels that leave the reader with something to hold onto. [Spoiler] When Arthur is informed that his father has been killed is one of these moments. This one page is the stand out of the entire book. It is more powerful than any flashy color battle page, or John Woo style battle scene. The moment is connected, emotional, and powerful. The page consists of four horizontal panels. The first of which says, “…It is with deep regret that we must…” Those eight words carry into the heart of both Arthur and the reader. The other three panels are silent, but in their silence they say more than words could ever express. The art team does an excellent job with the dark and gloomy tones and colors, creating an image and moment that resonates through the rest of this volume.
But despite it’s qualities, the art does prove itself to be a down fall to the series. The art, while beautiful is inconsistent. At times a character will look one way and then within a page they will be completely different. Lance is a perfect example of this. When Lance is given his first clear facial shot he bares a striking resemblance to actor Colin Farrell. Within two pages he looks more closely like Brad Pitt; then the faces just keep changing, every once in a while coming back to Colin Farrell. Now, I understand that a rendition is bound to change slightly every time something is drawn, but when such a strong likeness is done the first time, the artist is trapped into maintaining said likeness throughout the rest of the books -- at the very least the close-up panels. A character’s face should not be changing every other page.
Gwen too suffers a similar fate. Her face at some points suffers from over detail (and I mean this comparatively to the rest of the art in the book). At some points her face is given so much detail that it appears as though her face was actually a picture of a real woman that was transposed on to a drawn body and touched up to look painted. Now, while this is a beautiful feat, it pops Gwen’s face off the page in an unflattering manner. Sometimes the beauty of the shot even makes her expression seem disconnected from what is going on in the story. At other points her face matches the style employed on her bodywork, making her face and body flow smoothly and providing for a smoother artistic effect.
My last comments lie in the hands of dialogue balloons. I felt that the stylistic choice of the dialogue balloons/boxes took away from the artistic flow of the story, at times even taking away from a scene. I feel that the next batch of issues for this series should find a more stylized and smooth way of integrating the dialogue balloons/boxes into the style of the series itself. One such moment where the dialogue balloon/box is awkward is the moment where Ulysses Pendergon is saying goodbye to his sleeping wife and son (as referenced earlier). This is a very powerful panel that is threatened by the generic nature of the dialogue balloon/box. This is something that this reviewer feels should be addressed in the coming issues so as to meld the dialogue balloons/boxes into the panels in a way that heightens both the words and the art. Such a great story deserves a more unique dialoguing system.
All-in-all, Caliber is a great series and a must have for any comic book fan. I’d also highly recommend this graphic novel to anyone with an interest in Arthurian Legend. Next time you’re at your local comic shop pick up a copy -- you won’t regret it!
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